Over the past several months, I have come across many posts on other blogs that I really wanted to comment on in detail here. As the list piled up, I realized I was never going to get to them all, so allow me to briefly draw your attention to several items of interest, in case you missed them. I also hope to foreshadow some of the topics I still want to cover here in 2013.
1. B.T. Newberg interviews Dr. John Ryan Haule, author of Jung in the 21st Century
If you don’t already know, B.T. Newberg has an exciting lineup for Humanistic Paganism, including an interview of Jason Pitzl-Waters. As a Jungian, I was most excited to read B.T.’s interviewing of Dr. Haule. Dr. Haule is the author of a 2-volume series entitled Jung in the 21st Century. Volume 1 is subtitled Evolution and Archetype, and Volume 2 is entitled Synchronicity and Science. In the interview, Dr. Haule explains to B.T.:
“I believe it’s important to know something about the bodily ‘depths’ out of which archetypes have emerged and to see that body and psyche are two mutually implicated aspects of our organism, to apprehend nature as diverse but unitary, and to acknowledge our profound relationship with all beings.”
The relationship of the psyche to the brain and the relationship of Jung’s ideas to evolution are both subjects I hope to explore in greater detail in 2013, both here and on my new blog: Dreaming the Myth Forward at PaganSquare.
2. Alison Leigh Lilly talks about polytheism in a new way
Alison’s posts at No Unsacred Place this past year have revelatory. Two of her posts definitely worth checking out are: “Naming the Water: Human and Deity Identity from an Earth-Centered Perspective“, where she explores the porous nature of our experience of identity, which led into her next post, “Natural Theology: Polytheism Beyond the Pale”, where she proposed the novel idea of an ecological or natural polytheism, which might serve as a bridge between “soft” and “hard” polytheism. Alison writes:
“We show up to the banks of the sacred river. Here the shore curves in such a way that a small pool opens up among the eddies, spiraling and foaming, and we catch glimpses of a presence unique to this place, here and now. Tomorrow, a year from now, a decade, a millennium, the river’s banks may have changed. But for now, this place is familiar to us, this presence is a friend. We name this place with the name of deity. The banks of the river define its identity for us, as the unique personalities and limitations of the gods define their identities for us in our worship. They step into our lives as guides, givers of wisdom, inspiration and love, as familiar patterns in the spiraling energies that move the universe. But neither the river nor the gods are static, unchanging abstractions separate from the physical, natural world.
“We can name this river, here and now — but we cannot name the water itself. We can name our gods and we can name ourselves, but we cannot name the essence of sacred identity that flows through both, that connects us and sanctifies us.”
(Alison’s posts prompted an ungracious response from Star Foster and charges of “Pagan Calvinism”.) The nature of the gods is a subject that I have written about here before. I urge you to read both of Alison’s posts when you have some time to really sit with them. I have read both multiple times and they are very challenging. Alison’s notion of an ecological polytheism is still gestating in my mind and heart and hopefully will produce some interesting posts in 2013.
3. Drew Jacob Abandons Refuge in the Dharma.
Drew writes in this poetic piece, “I Abandon Refuge in the Dharma”:
[...] I abandon refuge in the Buddha:
To exist is not to suffer,
It is to struggle, and that’s different.
I abandon refuge in the Dharma:
To quiet your desire cannot save you,
because desire is not the enemy.
I abandon refuge in the Sangha:
Their ship is built to sail a thousand lifetimes,
but the shoal will hit in 60 years.
There is no soul in this frame,
It is only earth and blood.
It hungers and I feed it,
It lusts and I turn to another. [...]
As I’ve confessed here before, I don’t really dig the Buddha, so this piece really resonated with me. Drew’s post elicited wholehearted agreement from some readers as well as the responses of some perturbed Buddhists. Check out his post and the comments.
4. D.T. Strain gets Distracted from Spiritual Practice
D.T. Strain concluded his wonderful series on distractions from spiritual practice (which included cosmological speculation, the ego, academics) with a final distraction: fixing the world. The tension between spirituality and social action is something I see played out every week at my Unitarian church. Social action, D.T. pointed out, while a noble endeavor, is not spiritual practice.
“[...] molding the world to our liking (for good or ill) is not the aim of spiritual practice. Rather than fixing the world, spiritual practice calls on us to fix ourselves.”
At the same time, D.T. presented a vision of spiritual practice that is far from mere navel gazing:
“There is absolutely no benefit, in itself, of sitting cross-legged silently with eyes closed for any period of time. The real purpose of a spiritual practice, be it meditation or any other, is that we become more capable of applying and using what these practices do to us and for us in everyday life …”
D.T.’s post has really got me intent on refocusing my spiritual practice and I will be keeping you posted on my efforts in that regard in future posts.
5. Teo Bishop Wants Sermons in Paganism
Teo Bishop went to a Unitarian Universalist congregation and found something he felt was missing from Paganism: the sermon! In his post entitled “In Search of Context”, Teo describes what I think is a typical experience at a UU congregation:
“I sat and listened to three different people reflect on ethics, morals, and human character. They spoke about a commitment to caring for one another, and they did not sugar coat the challenges we face when trying to do that. They encouraged an entire congregation of people to be reflective. In fact, the whole service seemed to be geared toward inspiring stillness, contemplation, and reflection.”
Teo then goes on to the startling (for me) conclusion that he missed sermons of his Christian youth.
“I wish that just once I could go to a CUUPS ritual, or an ADF Druid ritual, and someone would get up and speak. I wish they’d provide me with context. I wish they’d say — this is how all of this fits into my life, and this is something for you to reflect on as you stand in this circle, or sit before this altar. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the leader of a ritual and wished that they would just start giving a sermon.”
This was a bit shocking because I think a lot of people become Pagan to escape the sermonizing of Christianity. Together with Alan Watts (see his book Behold the Spirit), I bemoan the loss of liturgy in Protestantism and its replacement of worship with edification. But what Teo was describing as the sermon was not the stereotypical minster throwing the book at the congregation. For Teo, the sermon is
“the moment when the priest became human. [...] She demonstrated her humanity by telling us about her life, about her attempts at integrating the disparate parts of herself, and about how sometimes she succeeded, and other times not so much. [...] If the sermon was effective, her life would be the launching point for greater reflection, and we would all walk away with something meaningful to consider.”
After reading this, I thought, “Why can’t Pagans do that?”, and I decided that I would. I decided I really needed to humanize my family rituals, for my kids’ sake at least, but also to remind myself why I am doing this. I needed to bring all the symbolism down to real life terms for them, to explain to them (briefly) why this is important to me. After reading Teo’s post, I’m committed to doing this in every family ritual and I hope to share how this goes as the Wheel of the Year turns in 2013.
6. Jason Mankey Draws Down the Gods
Jason Mankey shared his convention workshop on the practice of “Drawing down the Moon” or “invocation”, which Ronald Hutton calls the “central act of pagan witchcraft”. I had the pleasure of attending Jason workshop at Pantheacon 2012 and it was one of the best I attended. The subject of drawing down the gods is one I find endlessly fascinating. I have to admit, I have never witnessed this, much less experienced it. And honestly, I wonder if it is really accurate to call myself Pagan with a capital “P” without having had this experience or something equivalent. I am working myself up to seeking out this experience, but I have to admit that it frightens me.
“[...] when you draw down deity, you surrender yourself to it. Deity sees the world with your eyes, speaks with your tongue, and experiences with your body. Drawing down is a willful surrendering of consciousness in order to become one with deity [...]
“Like any experience with the gods, drawing down the moon really comes down to faith and belief. Either you believe that deity can shift our conscious mind or you don’t. If your not open to that possibility it’s unlikely you’ll ever experience it.”
I suspect that my own skepticism is not only keeping me from this experience, but I may be using my skepticism to unconsciously shield myself from a potentially frightening experience. This will definitely be the subject of a future post.